From pristine beaches to ancient temples, Bali offers the best of an Asian beach vacation. Here are some of the best things to do in Bali according to our expert Misty Foster.
I am visiting Bali with my partner next January. We wanted to plan a mix of popular spots and off-the-beaten path experiences. Could you help us with what are the best things to do in Bali?
-Megan Chung, Chicago
The Indonesian island of Bali is alive and teeming with natural wonders. In fact, it’s often referred to as the Island of the Gods for its biodiversity and varied landscapes. In the center of the island sits the sacred and active volcano, Mount Batur. To the south, Nusa Dua, Kuta, Jimbaran, and Canggu showcase dreamy beaches and ancient temples. The central and northern parts of the island are great for exploring waterfalls, hiking trails, and rice terraces. To top it all off, Bali is part of the Coral Triangle, which is an area with the highest density of marine species in the world. Should you decide to explore the waters surrounding the island, you’ll be in for a treat!
Bali has become quite the popular spot for travelers and has seen an 80% increase in tourism since the 1980’s. It is also the only Hindu island in Indonesia, which gives it a slightly different cultural edge that draws in many visitors. Visiting the island in a respectful and conscious manner is vital. The locals are very happy to welcome and share their island with travelers but want folks to recognize how auspicious the island and culture is to them. Should you visit this remarkable destination, take care in looking into their customs and traditions before going.
There is so much to see and do in Bali and it’s unlikely you can do it all in one trip. To that end, here are a few “must-see” spots to consider.
Bali West National Park
If you want to snorkel or scuba dive with fish that look like something out of the world of Lisa Frank, a visit to Bali West National Park should be on your list! The protected reserve makes up some ten percent of Bali’s total land mass and includes habitats from rainforest to dry savannahs. Take a day excursion to Menjangan island for some of the best scuba diving in the world. The coral reef is highly protected and only a small group of people are allowed to explore the area per day.
Hike Mt. Batur
Getting up a 1:00 am might seem rough but it’s totally worth it for the sunrise you’ll catch at the top of Mt. Batur. A guided excursion is highly recommended as it is a fairly challenging hike and the guides will know the best way in and around the crater. Most operators offer a stop at a coffee plantation for the famous, Kopi Luwak or a tour around an organic farm in the area.
Visit the cultural hub of Ubud
You may have seen clips of Ubud in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love. Ubud is in the central part of Bali and is known for its artisanal crafts, museums, and cultural experiences. The ARMA museum has the largest collection of Balinese art and is a great example of what Ubud has to offer. There are also many shops in town where you can learn the art of Batik printing or how to make Balinese shadow puppets. For those who want to pick up a locally-made souvenier, Ubud’s markets are the best for exploring.
Go Temple Hopping
The temples in Bali are enchanting and scared but you don’t have to be religious to enjoy them. Fans of architecture and culture will be inspired by the various temples peppered throughout the land, as well. There are over 20,000 temples in Bali so zeroing in on which ones to visit is key for maximizing your time there. The following are some of the most important and interesting options to consider:
- Pura Tirta Empul– One of the holiest temples in the land, Pura Tirta is where locals and visitors alike go to cleanse their spirits. The bathing ritual at this temple is considered highly sacred and is a unique cultural experience to have.
- Besakih– The mother of all temples! This is considered the holiest temple in Bali and is also the largest.
- Goa Gajah– Do you like secret tunnels where you can meditate? Or how about drinking from the fountain of youth? Then a trip to Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, is for you!
- Tanah Lot– This is one of the most popular temples to visit because it’s uniquely perched on an outcrop on the sea. You can only access and visit the site during low tide.
- Ulun Danu– This stunning temple overlooks lake Beratan and is very tranquil and scenic.
- Uluwatu– Get ready for dreamy cliffside views and monkeys galore at Uluwatu! This temple is another one famed for its stunning seaside views. There’s also a monkey forest visitors can explore but be aware that the monkeys are very cheeky and notorious for stealing things from tourists!
Slide down waterfalls at Aling-Aling
The Sambangan village is home to several waterfalls and secret pools that folks can take advantage of. Aling-Aling is one of the most captivating waterfalls surrounded by a lush forest at 35m high. You can also cliff jump off nearby Kembar waterfall (10 m) and Pucuk Waterfall (16 m) or slide down the Kroya waterfall (12 m).
Take a dip in the Banjar Hot Springs
For a more relaxing adventure, the Banjar Hot Springs offer tranquil natural pools or Air Panas to bathe in. The hot springs are considered to have healing properties and are also a sacred spot for the locals.
Cycle through a local village
Bali Eco-Cyle will take you to a local village where you can learn about Balinese life and traditions. They will also show you a nearby rice plantation, where you can see rice terraces and you’ll stop at an organic farm to learn about local flora and fauna. Biking through the backroads of Bali is a unique experience and great way to see a more authentic side to the island.
Observe the cultural Ogoh-Ogoh procession of Nyepi
Nyepi is new year celebration for the Balinese and falls in mid-March. The “Day of Silence” is observed by fasting and meditating to start the new year off right. On the eve of Nyepi, there is a huge procession where Ogoh-ogoh statues are paraded down the street to purify the environment and reset for the new year. The Ogoh-ogoh statues are large, forms of mythical beings represented in the Hindu religion and they are quite a site to see. The parade also features traditional dances and other rituals unique to the Balinese. This event is a once in a lifetime procession to witness and highly recommended.
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